Coffee Table Books for the Hip

Coffee table books can be tragically uncool. Evidence: Why Cats Paint, which my parents proudly display; Barbara Bush's moronic Millie's Book about the first dingo—now available, used, on for something like 49 cents; tomes filled with the fantastic but overexposed masterpieces of Van Gogh or Klimt; and for the pathetically feeble-minded, The Birthday Book, which gives you and you alone (unless you share your birthday, as I do, with such celebs as Shaun Cassidy and Meat Loaf) a uniquely personal bio extracted from the circumstances of the exact day of your birth. Um, yeah.

If your world is steeped in sickly, liquid sugar, you might display black-and-white hardbacks filled with white babies sitting atop giant flowers kissing one another. The conformist in you might also pick up anything beginning with A Day in the Life of . . .or The Great Golf Courses of . . . or just plain Sailing! Well, you suck. But don't feel bad, a lot of people do. Just stay clear of the Sept. 11 tribute books, and you might evolve.

For coffee table hipness, however, what's cooler than photos of random people dancing with themselves to their favorite songs or old black ladies in fancy hats or the deliciously creepy R. Crumb?

Dancing Pictures is filled with 27 pictures of coolophiles frozen in a dancing Zen moment. No one is hot; everyone is real, which actually kind of makes them hot—dirty hair; wrinkled shirts; big, ugly man toes and fat bellies on chicks that make you say, “Hop in my backseat, slacker kids; we're going to the mini-mart for a foot-long and Frappuccino.” It helps that their ensembles are stylin' and they're dancing to boogies by Prince, Grace Jones, Sushi 3003, Quetzal and Bill Monroe. There is no text and no author listed in this collage of brief abandon because it was self-published by someone too cool to flaunt their shit. Dancing Pictures by J&L; J&L Books Inc. Paperback, 60 pages, $10.

I don't have any black friends. Not one. Being immersed in Cracker Town and being somewhat antisocial, well, who's got the time? I do hang out with some Mexicans and Asians . . . but they come to me. And I do have a really massive love for old, black women in fancy hats. You, too, can appreciate this “hattitude” with Michael Cunningham's black-and-white photo essay of ebony queens regally presenting some chill crowns . . . illustrating, of course, the grandness of a cultural tradition steeped in beauty and pride. Craig Marberry provides essays and commentary, but the finest moments outside of the photographs come from the mouths of the matrons themselves: “They say I look like Mama in my hats. Sometimes, in church, I find myself sitting where she sat.” Crowns: Portraits of Black Women in Church Hats by Michael Cunningham and Craig Marberry with a foreword by Maya Angelou; Doubleday. Hardcover, 212 pages, $27.50.

Buy everything by R. Crumb: listen to his music; watch the riveting and grotesque documentary on his life over and over again; do not rent the Fritz the Cat adult cartoon, which is the bastardization of his original, hip, tacky creation. R. Crumb is, by all accounts, someone you would still love to beat up on the playground even if you've never lobbed a punch at a weakling in your life. He's snobbish, an egomaniac, rude, insensitive, hard to look at, fetish-crazed, morbid, misogynistic . . . and, yes, of course, a freaking genius. What other kind of creature could give birth to the sexploitive, rabid, six-foot-tall Devil Girl, with hulking calves and a honking nose, who exists only to be humped and thumped by Crumb alter egos? Inside this autobiography in pictures, you'll meet her and all the true-to-life characterizations (like brother Charles Crumb and the tyrant “Old Man” Papa Crumb) who delivered to Robert an angst-ridden, demented childhood—stuff you didn't see in the documentary. Then travel with Rob through his teenage ostracization from the “normal” world (which, granted, is composed mostly of ferocious idiots and vapid idiots) and view first drafts of the illuminating venom that would eventually run through his LSD-esque artwork, raping cultural iconography and defecating on delusional American values, striking bloody blows at the sublime and the stupid with equal vengeance. Then note how right-on and gorgeous it all is. R. Crumb Coffee Table Art Book: Crumb's Whole Career from Shack to Chateau by R. Crumb; Little Brown N Co. Hardcover, 256 pages, $40.

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